State tries to ease seedling shortage as foresters replant


Oregon Department of Forestry looks to give landowners more options after devastating wildfires

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Timberland owners trying to replant after the devastating 2020 wildfires are contending with unprecedented demand for tree seedlings, so the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and other organizations are trying to help.

Rough estimates are that between 80-140 million additional seedlings are needed to reforest just the non-federal lands that burned in 2020, according to ODF officials.

Foresters want to get those trees into the ground as fast as possible, both to prevent erosion and to get trees growing before competing vegetation moves in, which makes it harder to establish seedlings, ODF Family Forestland Coordinator Ryan Gordon said. It’s difficult for small forestland owners to obtain seedlings in the first place, though.

“Wildfire is you know an unplanned event and it takes a couple years to turn a seed into a seedling that you can plant into the ground,” Gordon said. “The market is pretty tight right now so that is to say that there isn’t a lot of extra growing space available in Oregon or other states.”

The main issue with replenishing Oregon’s seedling supply is nursery capacity. Most seeds are sown and grown inside greenhouses, which have a fixed amount of space. Nurseries usually operate close to capacity anyway, prioritizing large orders.

“Smaller landowners, it’s harder for them to participate in that market because they need smaller batches of trees and it’s harder to find a nursery that will grow those small batches,” Gordon said.

So ODF and its partners are trying to find ways to help people obtain any existing seedlings by collecting multiple orders from small landowners, placing them as one large order with a nursery, then distributing them down the line. They can also connect landowners with federal funds to offset conservation and reforestation work.

PRT nursery manager Allen Terlecki holds a seedling on December 29, 2020 (KOIN)

Landowners looking for help should contact their local ODF stewardship forester, Gordon said, and they should do it fast because, under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, timber land owners must replant within two years after a fire if they salvage the timber. The agency has said it will make some allowances to extend the deadline for land owners who can’t obtain seedlings in time.

It could take quite a while for seedling capacity to catch back up with demand, Gordon said. Good harvests and more extreme fire seasons over the past decade had already strained capacity before the 2020 wildfires burned roughly 1.2 million acres across the state.

“It’s definitely not a quick fix or a short-term solution,” Gordon said. “We’re going to have to be working away at this kind of slowly for the next five to seven years.”

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